Coffee Table Refinish

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Project by HappyHowie posted 01-19-2017 08:14 AM 1534 views 1 time favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I felt somewhat guilty of what happened to my neighbor’s coffee table. He called me asking if I knew how to remove white rings on a table finish. I said I knew that white rings were easier to remove than black rings, but told him “let me look up some solutions and I will call or text you back”.

I did find a couple ways and sent him a link in a text message to a YouTube video where Charles Neil has a unique method for removing these rings on a table’s finish. My neighbor Martin watched it and wrote me back: “Wow”, he said. I replied: “Yeah! Crazy”.

However, my Annie said we had white rings on our Amish dining set so I used the wet cloth soaked in boiled linseed oil method that Charles talked about along with using a hot iron to remove the rings. It worked on our dining set so I sent a text to Martin saying this method worked on our table . “Let me know when you would like to try it on your coffee table”.

After a few days passed, Martin walked into my garage woodshop. “Okay, are you ready to try removing your white rings?”, I asked. He was. “Let me get my iron and rag”, I said. Martin told me to leave them. He had the supplies already in his garage. I walked over with him. Martin was ready to use Charles method of wiping a soaked cloth in denatured alcohol and then light it with a flame. First, though, I said where is your fire extinguisher? We got it off the wall. Some denatured alcohol was poured onto a cloth. We stroked the area with the wet cloth. We did as the video instructed and attempted to light the area with a flame. It did not light. We tried it again but with more denatured alcohol on the cloth and thus on the table when it was wiped with the cloth. It still did not light.

Next Martin poured a small amount of the denatrued alcohol directly onto the table top. Still it did not light up, or fame up.

I said, “Wait a minute. I am going to get my old iron and my can of boiled linseed oil. Let me get these items and we will try the other method to remove these rings”. I left. I am just down two houses and across the street from Martin’s home.

As I was walking back to Martin’s garage, he was walking towards me. We met in the middle of the street. I could tell he had something urgent to tell me. Well, while I was gone Martin poured more denatured alcohol directly onto the table top, a lot of alcohol. He got it to light, but it became a camp fire. His coffee table was almost entirely in flames, and the fire was spreading onto the garage floor and approaching to get under his parked RV. That is when he poured the contents of the fire extinguisher onto the table , the floor and the flames under his RV. He got the fire out and save his RV. He saved his home.

Needless to say, the coffee table looked terrible. Worst than what shows in the image below. It had all of the white fire retardant goo on it.

As we were cleaning up his garage, etc. I retrieved my can of mineral spirits to clean the surfaces of his coffee table. The image above shows how the heat from the fire melted the finish were Martin had poured out the denatured alcohol. The image does not show the edges of the table that well. On both sides of the table on these edges there were some real hot spots where the table’s wood trim was burning and left black charred wood. I did not notice these spots until I got working on the table to refinish it

Martin had commented that he would just throw a cloth over the table and continue to use it in his family room. That is when I asked him to let me try to refinish the table top. I told him it would provide me a way to learn refinishing. Since I did not know if I could be successful in restoring this piece of furniture, I said my services are with no charges. I have much of the supplies I would need already in my shop. He granted me the pleasure of trying to fix this table.

I used a finish remover product with a plastic scrapper to remove the old finish from this table’s top. I lightly sanded the surface. I thought I had removed all of the finish. I used minerals spirits to wipe the top to verify I had all of the old finish removed. It looked good. I applied a TransTint dye mix recipe I got from Charles Neil’s Color Recipes book. New England Maple recipe looked like a good match to the table’s legs. I made a quart of this dye recipe mix. After applying and wiping the dye onto the table top, I realized something was wrong. On further inspection I saw that some of the original finish had not been totally removed. The image below shows this result. I was learning a good lesson: Repeat the finish remover process one more time before believing all of finish is removed, gone.

I decided to remove the dye with warm wet towels. After that I used more of the finish remover so I could get the remaining original finish from off the table top. This process also helped remove more of the dye. I cleaned the surface with mineral spirits and lightly sanded the top. I was left to believe I had injected dye into small areas on the top making the top look blotchy. After many attempts to remove the blotchiness, I was invited over to Martin’s to looked and inspect the end table he had that was a matching set. I concluded that the tables had an inherit light and dark spots or areas. I therefore could just continue with applying another coat of dye and complete this finish project.

That is what I did. I wiped on a new coat of this New England Maple dye mix with a cloth soaked into the dye. After it dried I lightly sanded the surface with a pad, wiped the dust off with a clean cloth. Then I began the process of spraying polyurethane. I would use a pad to knockdown dust nibs on the top coat. After the last coat of polyurethane I wiped on a thin coat of dark brown Staples paste wax and buffed well after the thin coat had dried. I replaced the metal buttons on the edges of the table top.

This project gave me valuable lessons learned in refinishing a table top using TransTint dyes.

This evening I returned this coffee table back to its home; its place with Martin, my friend and neighbor.

-- --- Happy Howie

12 comments so far

View majuvla's profile


13832 posts in 3137 days

#1 posted 01-19-2017 08:45 AM

Realy nice job. Nothing more precious than good and stattisfied neighbour.

-- Ivan, Croatia, Wooddicted

View recycle1943's profile


2710 posts in 1892 days

#2 posted 01-19-2017 03:36 PM

The only thing that counts is the end result and that looks GREAT !

(except for the lessons learned)

-- Dick, Malvern Ohio - my biggest fear is that when I die, my wife sells my toys for what I told her I paid for them

View MontanaBob's profile


844 posts in 2954 days

#3 posted 01-19-2017 03:42 PM

Outstanding save….

View Bobsboxes's profile


1369 posts in 2934 days

#4 posted 01-19-2017 04:49 PM

Very nice save, sometimes the simplest refinishing jobs, teach us the most.

-- Bob in Montana. Kindness is the Language the blind can see and deaf can hear. - Mark Twain

View HappyHowie's profile


471 posts in 2215 days

#5 posted 01-19-2017 07:18 PM

I covered this story in detail in my blog here on I have to say, there are a lot of great people here that gave me encouragement and advice that was very useful. For a novice finisher like me this help was huge. I appreciate all of it. Knowing that someone has my back when I get in trouble with some issue in woodworking or finishing is a great resource for me.

It has been a great experience for me that spans now several years. I can think of many instances where someone spoke up to help me over a hurdle . One great example was a modern walnut end table I was making. It legs angled out but as I was fastening those legs with screws I was losing my angle. That made my table look odd. Someone here gave me advice to make a wedge with the leg angle I needed. Placing that wedge in the corner brackets made the difference. The legs held their angle. That simple fix offered to me on this site was a big help. It made my project a success.

Things like this where others with more experience and offering their help as mentors is a great resource. Besides woodworking advice this has become a great meeting place. Look, I have made a friend in Croatia. All of that distance has been bridged with the Internet and with this website along with a common interest: woodworking.

Whoever began this web site has my gratitude. Thank you. And, thanks to all of you. You have made this a great place!

-- --- Happy Howie

View NCTurner's profile


53 posts in 1426 days

#6 posted 01-19-2017 08:44 PM

what a great story! Says much for your character, let alone your finishing skills!

So, umm, could I be your neighbor? I have an old coffee table, and some matches…. :)

-- One good turn deserves another!

View helluvawreck's profile


32086 posts in 3137 days

#7 posted 01-19-2017 09:11 PM

This is a good looking table and you have really done a fine job on this.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View HappyHowie's profile


471 posts in 2215 days

#8 posted 01-19-2017 11:17 PM

NCTurner, that’s funny… come on down.

My Annie noticed that one of our wonderful neighbors has placed her house up for sale today. We knew it was coming. She lost her husband a few months ago. Beverly is 89 years old. Ann and I love her. She is great, but she is moving into her daughter’s home in the next town south. The very same day the for sale sign is placed in her yard, the contract pending is also attached to it. These homes around us are going that fast… What is going on???

-- --- Happy Howie

View ralbuck's profile


5675 posts in 2536 days

#9 posted 01-19-2017 11:48 PM

Nice job!

Yes the sawdust seems to create bond among the addicts. I am happy to even share my “sort of patterns” with anyone too.

-- Wood rescue is good for the environment and me! just rjR

View Mean_Dean's profile


6928 posts in 3417 days

#10 posted 01-19-2017 11:52 PM

Well, it was a learning experience for both you and the rest of us following along on this journey to here. I’m very pleased to see how well the finished project came out; and congratulations on a fine refinishing job—I’m sure Martin is just as pleased with it!

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

View splintergroup's profile (online now)


2551 posts in 1492 days

#11 posted 01-20-2017 03:14 PM

I loved following this story (and its happy ending)!

View mcoyfrog's profile


4745 posts in 3864 days

#12 posted 01-31-2019 05:35 AM

Great work, I have to do the same thing soon LOL

-- Wood and Glass they kick (well you know) Have a great day - Dug

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